BRUSSELS – The European Union's top executive and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet this month for talks that could give new momentum to the stalled post-Brexit negotiations.
As a fourth round of talks between teams of negotiators resumed Tuesday with little hope for a breakthrough on a future trade deal, the bloc's executive arm said a meeting is planned between EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson by the end of June.
Daniel Ferrie, the commission spokesperson for EU-U.K. negotiations, said the date and format of the encounter have yet to be determined.
The U.K. left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, but remains inside the EU’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of the year. That so-called transition period can be extended by two years although a deal to do so has to be made by July 1, according to the legal documents accompanying Brexit.
Johnson has repeatedly said he will not extend the transition period beyond Dec. 31.
“A crucial week ahead of us to make tangible progress across all areas,” said Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, in a message posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
Ahead of this week's round of talks — which take place via video-conference due to the coronavirus pandemic — Britain accused the EU of making unbalanced demands, while Barnier warned in an interview with the Sunday Times that there would not be an “agreement at any cost.”
The three previous rounds of discussions have failed to produce much headway, notably around fishing rights. The U.K. wants a fisheries deal to be a standalone agreement whereby the two sides negotiate access and quotas. The EU, for its part, has sought to link fisheries to other trade issues.
Another major roadblock is the so-called level playing field. The EU is concerned that Britain may diverge on rules and regulations to gain a competitive advantage and wants to make sure that EU standards will be kept by London in return for a high degree of access to the single market.
“The U.K. has been taking a step back – two steps back, three steps back – from the original commitments,” Barnier said. “The U.K. negotiators need to be fully in line with what the Prime Minister signed up to with us. Because 27 heads of state and government and the European Parliament do not have a short memory.”
Despite the apparent stalemate, Johnson's spokesman, James Slack, insisted progress could be made.
“We hope this latest round is constructive and we hope that it will keep the process on track ahead of the high-level meeting later this month," he said.
Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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